‘As businesses navigate economic uncertainty, leaders need their teams to be agile’

9 Mar 2023

Paige Costello, product management leader at Asana. Image: Asana

Asana’s Paige Costello speaks to SiliconRepublic.com about her role as a product management leader and how she gets the most out of her teams.

Paige Costello is a product management (PM) leader at Asana, managing teams in San Francisco and New York to work towards helping individuals, teams and organisations work together efficiently.

Prior to her current role at Asana, Costello led PM teams at both Intercom and Intuit. While working at Intuit, she led teams for accounting software QuickBooks.

As part of her current role at Asana, she leads the core product group, where she works with teams to “shape the still new collaborative work management category”.

“Our platform helps companies articulate their goals, formulate plans to achieve them, and track progress across teams at scale. It creates a living system of clarity and accountability.”

‘Smart work is not about the number of tasks completed or time spent online but the impact of work. It emphasises outcomes over outputs.’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The current economic climate has understandably affected both short and long-term planning for many businesses. Like many businesses, we are paying special attention to prioritising for impact, optimising our resourcing and ensuring everyone understands our company goals  – and that’s a good thing!

As businesses navigate economic uncertainty, leaders need their teams to be agile and to spend more time on strategic, impactful work.

To help achieve this, business leaders must evaluate how teams work across groups to get things done and focus on how tools fit together to drive growth and improve the employee work experience.

For a while, many leaders have had a ‘more the merrier’ or ‘live and let live’ approach to software solutions, letting each team use the tools that work for them. But leaders need to take a critical look at that assumption and be more strategic about selecting the tools that can connect work, teams and goals together, saving precious time, making collaboration more efficient, reducing operating expenses and driving revenue.

At Asana, we are helping to tackle this challenge by developing a platform that can serve as company-wide infrastructure for capturing and tracking progress against goals and plans. A single system of record makes status updates more structured and automatic and alleviates reliance on never-ending email chains – helping to save employees time and improving cross-functional efficiency across teams.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The complexity of working across multiple time zones, geographies, offices, business units, remotely, in-office and hybrid creates challenges and opportunities we are eager to solve. Today, individuals battle an overwhelming number of systems and processes, switching between as many as nine different apps daily – which drains focus and increases the risk of missing deadlines and updates amidst notification overload.

Today’s enterprise organisations rely on distributed teams more than ever, and it is critical to ensure that employees can collaborate effectively.

At Asana, this represents a major sector opportunity by providing a collaborative work management solution that can cut down ‘work about work’ — essential to improving team cohesion, efficiency and effectiveness.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

Curiosity and a willingness to be a beginner. I didn’t pursue a technical major but found that the product role required strategic, analytical thinking, clear communication, effective collaboration and a growth mindset. It’s a hustle to find your first PM role and it’s not for everyone, but the job can be very rewarding.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

I’d have to say leaving a company and pursuing the next opportunity when you have a job you love and are being well-rewarded for it!

As I reflect, I think there are three indicators you should consider looking for another role: When your learning curve flattens, when systemic issues stall your growth and when you lose interest in the problem your company or product is solving.

Ultimately, leaving a role professionally is an important skill — just like onboarding to a new role. It often feels like a big risk, but it may well be the single biggest lever for growing your career, igniting your passions and investing in your wellbeing.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

I’m always trying to get better at saying no. In order to say yes more fully, it’s important to deprioritise opportunities along the way.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Lead with the goal. I like to refer to this as macromanagement rather than micromanagement. I have found that setting ambitious and attainable goals, alongside regular progress updates, works at every level, whether in senior leadership teams or with individual team members. It empowers everyone to be more responsible for their outcomes and provides regular cadences for adapting plans to ensure we are always focused on delivering the highest impact for customers and our business.

Smart work is not about the number of tasks completed or time spent online but the impact of work. It emphasises outcomes over outputs.

Goals also help to ensure work and energy is aligned with the wider efforts of the organisation and improves local decision-making and an individual’s sense of purpose. We’ve designed Asana to help people understand who is doing what by when and why. This clarity and accountability at the team, individual and organisational level builds trust and helps teams move faster.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Although there has been improvement and more onus on diversity at work, there is still more to be done when it comes to diversity within the tech sector. Research from Gartner found that only 31pc of IT employees are women, and only 20pc of computer science degrees or 22pc of engineering degrees are earned by women – according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.

For me, one of the most critical things to improve inclusivity and diversity is for early career people to have sponsors who actively support their growth and hear out their challenges. These individuals can provide advice, opportunities and a safe space for talented individuals to grow into their power and create a work world they are thrilled to be a part of.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

Don’t self-select! Apply, give it a shot and let someone else evaluate your fit and readiness. Also, don’t assume that if you get rejected from a role it means the hiring manager has decided against you. Most of the time, your section of the ‘resume stack’ was never even viewed, let alone by the hiring manager.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Recently, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, and Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.

I also think that Inspired by Marty Cagan and The Sprint Book by Jake Knapp should be on every product person’s bookshelf.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I know I’m biased, but I honestly can’t imagine getting through the work week without Asana. It helps me set and reflect on goals, plan agendas, run meetings, keep track of agreements, decisions, and action items, evaluate progress, see status across projects and portfolios, and prioritise my own work!

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